In his latest blog, my colleague Saurabh Mukherjea writes about “The Tussle Between What we “Should do” & What we “Must do”” blaming in part to societal expectations for “what we should do”. In this Indian Express OpEd, Pratap Bhanu Mehta extends the debate to Indian students’ educational choices and how they are driven or rather constrained by the same social valuations. At a time when millions of students are making their choices for higher educations, this piece from the vice chancellor of Ashoka University, an institution that is bringing some change in the way Indians think about higher education is indeed worth pondering over.
“The larger social structures constrict educational possibilities and the way in which we imagine the relationship between education and life. As another generation of school leavers enters college or the job market, we will console them with familiar platitudes. Do not place undue emphasis on marks. Choose an educational pathway that you like, rather than conform to social pressure, and so on.
These are fine sentiments and make a good deal of sense. But even as we say these things, we know there is something hollow about them in our social context. The familiar tensions between the practical demands of navigating a pathway in a modern economy, and education for its own sake, will play out within each one of us.
…broader structures of inequality and unfreedom actually constrain educational choice. The freedom we urge upon our students runs into a world of necessity and constraint; and the promise that education will be the pathway to equality exposes them to a new kind of inequality…
…the inequality challenge is not just about access. It is about modes of valuation that are inherent in the way we think of the relationship between education and society. The philosopher, Thomas Nagel, once wrote: “When racial and sexual (and you might add, caste) injustice have been reduced, we shall still be left with the great injustice of the smart and the dumb, who are so differently rewarded for comparable effort.” It must be pointed out that “smart” and “dumb” are categories that are themselves the products of forms of social valuation. But to deny the fact that in our cultures there is a deep tension between the cult of individual achievement and the equal valuation of persons, would be to deny reality. You might argue that to acknowledge some particular achievement (good marks) is not necessarily to devalue persons who do not display that achievement. But the truth is that it is hard to sustain that distinction in practice. In aristocratic societies, trappings of wealth and social valuation go hand in hand. In our societies, manifest ability and social valuation go hand in hand; recognising accomplishment shades over into valuing persons differently.
But this mode of valuation is compounded by two other features of modern society. The first is meritocracy, the idea that your achievement is due to individual effort. Again, this is an understandable association. But its corollary is that failure is also an individual failing. In an aristocratic society you might be subordinate, but the psychic story is that this is just the nature of things. In our societies, the individual is devalued or blamed for the lack of achievement, there is a different kind of stress associated with falling behind. Valuing individual achievement is a great spur to ambition, but it is also a psychological disaster: In modern constructions of failure, you have no one to blame but yourself.
The second myth of modern society is this: You might not be able to do some things well, but there are other things you might do well. This is good advice. But the plausibility of this advice depends again upon modes of social valuation. In societies where the income and status gaps between different professions are inordinately high, the line between choosing your own thing and being condemned to social oblivion can be pretty thin. In societies where the social cost of not making it to the top five or 10 per cent are so high, it is also more difficult to make the argument in good faith to “do your own thing.” The life penalties associated with those choices can be much higher.”
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Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this publication in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services. Marcellus Investment Managers is also regulated in the United States as an Investment Advisor.
Copyright © 2022 Marcellus Investment Managers Pvt Ltd, All rights reserved.